Hundreds protest proposed changes to NM science curriculum

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – People have passionate feelings about the Public Education Department’s proposal to change the way science is taught in the state.

Many at a heated public forum in Santa Fe Monday said they worry this is an attack on teaching evolution and climate change while the PED maintained the move is about giving teachers more flexibility.

“This is about an assault on the law between church and state,” one man said during the forum.

More than 100 people had no hesitation laying into the PED’s proposed STEM-Ready Standards, which challenge evolution, climate change and questions the age of the earth.

Read: New Mexico-STEM Read Science Standards Draft >>

Educators, students and others expressed concern over what they described as a politically driven, flawed curriculum from an economical and educational standpoint.

“Companies would be unwilling to relocate here,” Los Alamos Public School Board Secretary Ellen Ben-Naim said. “And Los Alamos — we have the National Lab, of course — and I’m worried about scientists even wanting to relocate here and to raise their families.”

Some students said the changed standards would put them at a disadvantage when applying for college or a job in a science-related field.

“I plan to go to college for a scientific field and I want people to know I’m from New Mexico, home of the atomic bomb, home of science and not for this,” Kayla Botinelli, a Valencia High School student, added.

Among the hundreds of people waiting to speak, the absence of the governor’s new education secretary, Christopher Ruszkowski, was most noticeable.

Sunday in a statement, he once again defended the proposed standards saying it will give teachers and families flexibility and local control of curriculum.

However, judging by Monday’s crowd, many disagree.

In a more than three-hour comment period, KRQE News 13 didn’t hear anyone speak in support of the PED’s proposed changes to the science curriculum.

Sen. William Soules from Las Cruces, who waited in a long line to speak at Monday’s hearing, believes the PED violated New Mexico’s Open Meetings Act by holding a hearing in a space that was too small to fit all the proposal’s critics.

The PED says the secretary wasn’t at the hearing because he was celebrating schools in Roswell that received “A”s, adding secretaries don’t generally attend hearings like these.

The following is Secretary Ruszkowski’s statement defending the proposed changes:

“This proposal was created after studying the work of leading states around the country and is designed to create as much flexibility as possible for our local schools and districts. New Mexico’s public education system has made unprecedented progress over the past three years—with our students rising to the challenge of more rigorous academic standards in both reading and math.  Today represents an important step forward in the state’s comprehensive STEM-Ready agenda—with new proposed standards that could replace our current, outdated standards. As we move forward together, there is an opportunity for all New Mexicans to come together and rally around a higher bar that will better prepare students for the next generation of job opportunities and to stop some of the public posturing that continues on this issue.  The next phase is the all important work of implementation, and the PED will be laser-focused on what that looks like for our educators and students.”

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